Monday, March 30, 2015

TOP STORY >> Son of Delta: Be a winner

Leader Editor-in-chief

Lloyd E. Shefsky is a retired international lawyer and entrepreneur who was born in Arkansas, raised in Chicago and is now semi-retired in Florida. He’s still lecturing, consulting and writing books about living the American Dream through hard work, personal vision and playing by the rules.

He’s the best-selling author of “Entrepreneurs Are Made, Not Born.” In his latest book, “Invent, Reinvent, Thrive: The Keys to Success for Any Startup, Entrepreneur or Family Business” (McGraw-Hill, $26), he celebrates the lives of individuals whose names are associated with products and services that offer great value, never skimp on quality and are crazy about customer service.

Shefsky traces his roots to McGehee (Desha County), where his uncle owned a dry-goods store that Lloyd’s dad helped run for a few months before heading back to Chicago during the Second World War. Lloyd was born in Lake Village in 1941 and still returns, occasionally, to the Delta.

A savvy business lawyer, lecturer and educator, Shefsky has more than 40 years of experience advising and drawing inspiration from the titans of Chicago business, such as the Crown and Pritzker families of Chicago.

He’s a cheerleader for capitalism, grateful for the opportunities America has offered his family, while so many of his relatives who stayed behind in the old country perished in the Holocaust.

Shefsky graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and has taught for many years at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management near Chicago. Several prominent Arkansans went to Northwestern, where former Sen. Dale Bumpers and former Illinois politician Cecil Partee, who was born in Blytheville, earned their law degrees.

Shefsky is a graceful writer whose book is filled with sound business advice and folksy aphorisms, such as, “When focus causes you to wear blinders, you are more than likely to be blindsided,” along with such Yiddish aphorisms as, “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sail.”

Shefsky has taught and lectured in China, Japan, Thailand, Israel, Canada and the U.S. He has known prominent business leaders who have built nationwide businesses from the ground up. He includes insights from the founders of Starbucks, Staples, Costco, Charles Schwab and the families who still run General Dynamics, Seagram’s, Hyatt and Radisson Hotels, Ebony and Jet magazines and others.

Like Shefsky, John Johnson was born in Desha County — in Arkansas City, a dozen miles from McGehee. The Johnsons also moved up to Chicago, where John and his wife Eunice launched Negro Digest and Ebony and many other businesses, all of them filling important needs for the growing African American middle class.

The companies profiled in “Invent, Reinvent, Thrive” are famous for being ahead of the times and focusing on customer service. When companies refuse to change with the times, they falter and go out of business. Shefsky points to Kodak, which bet its business on film even as foreign competitors were cutting its market share. More shockingly, Shefsky points out, Kodak took out a patent on a digital camera 40 years ago but decided to shelve it.

Yet Kodak, although it’s a much smaller company, has remained in business, moving into high-tech. The Leader uses thin Kodak aluminum plates that reproduce two pages at a time that are sent from our computers to plate makers and are placed on our printing presses in a couple of minutes. This process used to take several hours. We have a Kodak moment every time we print a paper and will keep using this process as long as people pick up a newspaper.

“I was born in Lake Village,” Shefsky told us. “My parents were living in McGehee, where my uncle owned the general store. We moved from Arkansas when I was six months old, which explains my lack of accent.

“My parents were from Chicago. My mother’s sister was a law firm receptionist in Chicago. One day, a gentleman with a peculiar accent (combination U.S. Southerner and Romanian) came to see one of the lawyers. Upon being ushered in, he told the receptionist, ‘Don’t you leave, because I want to see you when I come out and I intend to marry you.’

“And so that gentleman married that receptionist, becoming my uncle and taking my aunt with him to his home in McGehee, the location of one of the half dozen general stores that he and his brothers owned in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana,” Shefsky said.

“In 1940, my uncle purchased an extremely large, and advantageously priced, inventory that lay in escrowed storage pending his obtaining financing to take down the inventory. To free him up to visit banks in surrounding states, he asked my father to come down and help him with the store.

“My dad was a young podiatrist whose practice wasn’t gaining steam — both were affected by the still lingering Depression. So my parents moved to McGehee. They were there just briefly when I was born, in the Lake Village Hospital,” he said.

“Unable to find the financing, my uncle was in jeopardy of losing the inventory and likely their entire business…My parents and I returned to Chicago with time to spare for celebrating my first birthday, and I remained in Chicago ever since, until a few years ago when I moved to Florida,” Shefsky said.

“I visited Arkansas when I was 7 years old and have vivid memories of my uncle’s store, my aunt and uncle’s home, and the railroad station — as a 7-year-old, I found the train stopping by the main street exciting and quite different than Chicago’s Union Station. It was my first exposure to the South. Even then, I wondered why the train station wasn’t referred to as ‘the Confederate Station,’” Shefsky recalled.

“A few years ago, I revisited McGehee and Lake Village. Mayor Jack May of McGehee was kind enough to take us on a tour of McGehee. The train no longer stopped in McGehee, and the station had become a museum, a source of pride to the mayor who developed it, but a major disappointment to the 7-year-old still in me who had wanted the train to still stop in McGehee,” he said.

“Over the years, my having been born in Arkansas has proven beneficial on a few occasions: (1) I was in a receiving line to shake hands with then-President Clinton. I quickly mentioned where I was born, which led to an additional minute of conversation, which was cool; (2) it got me an interview for ‘Entrepreneurs Are Made Not Born’ with Witt Stephens, the founder of Little Rock-based Stephens Inc. and one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever interviewed; (3) It enabled me to close a deal back in 1973, when I was actively practicing law, after opposing counsel told my client that he’d never done a deal with a Jew and didn’t intend to start then (apparently my Dixie ties trumped his bigotries),” Shefsky said.

“Invent, Reinvent, Thrive” belongs in business classrooms and boardrooms. The Walton School of Business should buy 5,000 copies of this book and give one to every student.